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CrimeSceneInvestigation
03-16-2006, 09:02 PM
Hello all:

My name is Jon Wellner. I am a researcher for the CBS drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Although CSI is a fictitious program we try to be as realistic as possible in both our portrayal of science as well as any other subject we discuss. It is with this in mind that I am contacting you all.

An upcoming episode of CSI will deal with a civil war reenactment. Considering your background, I thought you might be the perfect people to ask a few research question. I apologize for the amount of questions we have and greatly appreciate your taking the time to look at this e-mail.

What does it take to participate in Civil War Reenactments?
How serious are the participants?
Do they wear authentic uniforms or do they get fake ones?
Do they shoot each other? If so, with what?
Do they go to the actual sites where battles occur - and is it possible to have re-enactments in Nevada?
Does their choice of sides reflect their politics - i.e.-would a confederate re-enactor hold that slavery is a good thing?
How often are re-enactments held?
Is there some pre-planning involved, strategy sessions, who decides who stands where?
Is there a profile of the typical re-enactor?
Are there any descendants of Civil War veterants in the Vegas area? Any organizations (on the Daughters of the American Revolution model) that meet?
Are there some magazines or books about reenactments?
Is there an organization that runs these civil war re-enactments?
How many people in this country participate?
How fanatical do people get about this?

Again, I hope I'm not overwhelming you with all these questions. I realize how ignorant we are regarding this subject and hope you can assist us.

Sincerely,

Jon Wellner
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
jwellner@mac.com

MissMaggie
03-17-2006, 01:29 PM
What does it take to participate in Civil War Reenactments?

For most events all you need is mostly correcting clothing and gear. There are events, however, that do require people to meet a certain standard of authenticity and to then pre-register and be accepted.

How serious are the participants?

That all depends. Some people like to just go out camping in funny clothing and really don't take the history end of things all that seriously. Some people will spend months doing research for an event that will last one weekend.

Do they wear authentic uniforms or do they get fake ones?

Actual original uniforms and clothing are far too rare and fragile to actualy be used. With a few exceptions that people make to use smaller, more common originals everything else is a reproduction.

Do they shoot each other? If so, with what?

Never, Every effort is made to ensure that there will be no possibility that any object is fired out of a musket. Seperate "live fire" events will allow men to target shot at events. However, any battle reenactment will have multiple saftey checks to make sure that there are no rounds in the musket or sidearm and ramrods are never used on the field to ensure that those never accidently get fired.

Do they go to the actual sites where battles occur - and is it possible to have re-enactments in Nevada?

Some events do take place on the actual group or as close to is as possible. In some cases it is not possible because the original ground is now a shopping mall. It is possible to have events in Nevada...they have them in England and Germany.

Does their choice of sides reflect their politics - i.e.-would a confederate re-enactor hold that slavery is a good thing?

No, a person's choice of sides will have nothing to do with them thinking salvery was a good thing. I have never met a reenactor yet that thought slavery was a good thing. As a matter of fact most people are able to do a federal as well as confederate impression. They will chose sides based on the numbers in the event, the location, their personal choice if they had a family member in the war they are chosing to honor ect. ect.

How often are re-enactments held?

You can probably find an event every weekend of the year if you look hard enough all over the united states. Most events will take place once a year. There are a few events that will only take place once or happen once every few years to coincide with a certain anniversary in the war.

Is there some pre-planning involved, strategy sessions, who decides who stands where?

At most events this is all done before hand by the event organizers. Most of the time it might be influenced by a the battle they are trying to recreate in some way. But events are extensivly planned.

Is there a profile of the typical re-enactor?

No.

Are there any descendants of Civil War veterants in the Vegas area? Any organizations (on the Daughters of the American Revolution model) that meet?

You may want to look into the Grand Army of the Republic, Daughter of the Confederacy and the local historical society.

Are there some magazines or books about reenactments?

There are magazines and books for reenactors and historians but I can't think of any about them. The Watchdog, Civil War Historian, Camp Chase Gazzet, Citizens companion, Civil War Times ect. ect. Are some magazines devoted to the era. You'd have to ask elsewhere to find books on military reenacting of the era. I know there are a few publised by some groups.

Is there an organization that runs these civil war re-enactments?

For the most part no. Many of them are put on by historic sites and the groups that plan on attending them.

How many people in this country participate?

I'd guess over 10,000 but there is no way to really count.

How fanatical do people get about this?

Some people more than others. I wouldn't use the term fanatical to describe the typical reenactor. Sure there are some really crazy people out there but they are more legend than actual fact. 99.9% of reenactors look on this as a hobby, nothing more.


Maggie Halberg
Milwaukee, WI

Frenchie_2006
03-18-2006, 01:41 AM
Dear Mr. Wellner:

I'm going to aim for the middle of the bell curve with my answers, striking a mean between the lowest level (whatever looks like a uniform at 100 yards, Civil War theme camping, burning a pound of black powder per day, and generally whooping it up) and the highest level (materials that exactly duplicate the look, feel, and smell of 150 years ago, losing lots of weight to look starved, nothing modern on the person, staying in first-person 24 hours a day, and drilling and marching as the manuals and journals said they did). I'm a "mainstreamer" who looks with horror on the fat, beer-guzzling, yahoo farbs below me, and cheers on the true believer "hardcores" above while maintaining a somewhat saner balance between real life and the hobby. I'm also a military reenactor and have only recently begun studying the civilian part of the hobby, so my answers are restricted to the Army and Navy of the 1860s.


What does it take to participate in Civil War Reenactments?

About $1500 to $2000 worth of uniforms and equipment, books to study the history and drill, hours of study and discussion, weekends at living history and reenactment events. Most importantly, a sense of honoring the truths of history and the people who lived through it. Involvement. Dedication. I realize I'm sounding too serious here - a sense of humor is indispensable.


How serious are the participants?

More so than not (remember, middle of the road answers). We want to do it well, but real life restricts certain things, mostly time to practice our skills.


Do they wear authentic uniforms or do they get fake ones?

Any modern-made uniform is a "fake" in the sense that no one makes fabrics exactly the same way as they did then. Mainstreamers wear uniforms that look good at reasonably short distances, and often up close, but can never pass for originals. If by "authentic" you meant a 145-year-old original uniform, they are too valuable and too fragile to wear even in a climate-controlled room.


Do they shoot each other? If so, with what?

All right, now I'm wondering if you're serious. I was once asked how we keep from killing each other. I was again reminded of how little some people know about firearms. Sigh. No, we don't shoot each other with anything. We put black powder (a mixture of charcoal, sulpher, and potassium chloride) - and nothing else - down the bore of our muskets and ignite it with a percussion cap (which is basically a cap like the ones you had in your little chrome-plated "six-shooter" your mother wouldn't let you shoot in the house, inside a small copper cup). Nothing comes out of the muzzle but smoke, flame, and noise. It's still dangerous up close, but that's why we have rules about firing distances and shooting over the other guy's heads.


Do they go to the actual sites where battles occur - and is it possible to have re-enactments in Nevada?

We go to actual sites when they are in private hands and the owner allows us to do so. Cedar Creek, near Winchester, Virginia, is one such place. National Park Service-operated sites (Gettysburg, Manassas, Harper's Ferry, etc.) don't allow battle reenactments and restrict things to living history demonstrations and tightly-controlled drill and firing demos. Sure, why couldn't you have reenactments in Nevada? There were a few battles in the Southwest, Palmeto Ranch in Texas comes to mind, and there are others. But if what you do on the show looks anything like the one in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, there'll be an angry mob with pitchforks and torches at the gates, if you get my drift.


Does their choice of sides reflect their politics - i.e.-would a confederate re-enactor hold that slavery is a good thing?

If he does so as part of the persona or role that he is playing, then he is reflecting the opinions of someone who was alive when such positions were commonly held. If he does it outside that limit, in the "real world", he generally gets a pretty chilly response.


How often are re-enactments held?

More in the warmer months, obviously. It depends on the region of the country and the local level of participation in the hobby.


Is there some pre-planning involved, strategy sessions, who decides who stands where?

Again, it depends on the level of the reenactors. For the most part there is a fair amount of this. There are two basic types of battle reenactment: 1. Totally scripted, units and individuals know where they are supposed to be and when - they are re-enacting or re-creating actual history as closely as possible. 2. "Tacticals" (in modern terms, wargames*) where spectators are few to none and units and individuals move and act on their own in accordance with the tactics as they were practiced then - often these are refereed and judged to determine who "wins".
*Okay, yeah, you guessed it - we're really just playing GI Joe in the woods - who doesn't want to be a kid again? :-D


Is there a profile of the typical re-enactor?

Salient points: He probably is doing it out of a sense of wanting to see what it might have been like, to honor an ancestor(s), to do "manly play-acting" (interpret that as you will), to teach others about something that interests him - any or all of these, in any order, and not counting out many other reasons that others may have.


Are there any descendants of Civil War veterans in the Vegas area? Any organizations (on the Daughters of the American Revolution model) that meet?

Je ne sais pas, Monsieur. I'll leave that to others who can say.


Are there some magazines or books about reenactments?

Oh, yeah. Civil War Historian, Civil War News, Camp Chase Gazette are just three. Check the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble or Borders Books.


Is there an organization that runs these civil war re-enactments?

There are many. Who and what they are depends on the region. Others should be able to put you in touch with those in Nevada and California.


How many people in this country participate?

No one knows for sure. I've heard between 10,000 and 40,000 from time to time.


How fanatical do people get about this?

Well, we don't kill each other over it. Which is to say, not as much as some people get over football in Europe and South America, or to use an extreme example, religious beliefs. We're not a society based on shame or honor - they're important, but we don't live and die over them.

amity
03-18-2006, 11:07 PM
I am interested in the more "authentic" civilian reenactments and especially those which are not open to the public, so all my answers will be from that perspective.

What does it take to participate in Civil War Reenactments? A whole lot of money and time. All gear must be made according to the standards of the time, so that means either a great deal of time spent finding plausible period materials and replicating period techniques, or else paying someone to do that work for you. Most time, however, is spent reading and researching to have as detailed knowledge as possible.

How serious are the participants? Very serious. My goal is to make an event as close to actual time travel as possible.

Does their choice of sides reflect their politics - i.e.-would a confederate re-enactor hold that slavery is a good thing? No, or at least only for the duration of the event. I would try to portray the views of the character I was portraying as closely as possible. At another event I would be portraying another point of view equally convincingly, I hope. Might be a plantation mistress one week and an abolitionist the next. There has even been a suggestion of a future event to recreate the underground railroad, in which case I would be portraying an escaped slave (I am a middle-aged white southern woman in real life). My real views are something else, and I have certainly never heard anyone defend slavery in "real life."

Is there some pre-planning involved, strategy sessions, who decides who stands where? Yes, and hopefully quite a bit. The most authentic events often have special listservers set up to help folks prepare, share research, get to know one another's personae, and generally develop an entire integrated community before the event. In these events, participants are often portraying the actual inhabitants of a specific town, for example, working from census records and other primary sources. Advance preparation for one event can take months. There are teams of people who coordinate different aspects of events, and people who develop scenarios, and planning the specifics is a group effort. I don't know if it comes down to who stands where or not.

Is there a profile of the typical re-enactor? I would say no. It ranges from silly to extremely serious and sophisticated. At the more authentic level most reenactors are motivated, I hope, by a fascination with history.

How fanatical do people get about this? I guess I am pretty fanatical myself. I am the type who, if presented with an actual time machine, would have little hesitation about going back in time. Reenacting occupies most of my leisure time and about half of my disposable income. Most of the books on my shelf are primary sources on 19th century in the state where I live. If I were independently wealthy and no longer had to work, reenacting is probably what I would be doing most of the year.

BTW, I want to make the point that not all reenacting is battle oriented. There are a lot of civilian events going on, at which the war is mere backdrop, as well as some events that are deliberately set in pre-war times, 1850s.